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Teen SRC 2020- A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder - Jackson, Holly

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson seemed like an interesting read (the cover is amazing, and i judged the book by it, fight me 😉 ). But then, the synopsis ended up disappointing me. It sounded like the book was a mash-up of literally every other YA murder mystery. We have our usual ‘good’ white girl protagonist, our suspect from a marginalized community, with a name like ‘Sal Singh’ to make it extra obvious. We have the popular/mean girl murder victim (Andie) and the lazy/racist reporter. Then, of course, Ravi. The younger brother of previously mentioned murderer that killed his girlfriend then himself (Sal Singh). Of course, Ravi is the cute but very reserved and intense love interest.

The first quarter of this book made me want to chuck it at a wall. But I kept going and… it improved. BY A LOT.

The characters stayed flat. Only Pippa (protag) had some sort of character arc, and even that was half-hearted. No, the only thing that redeemed this book was the mystery. It was SHOCKINGLY well-planned and thought out. I didn’t guess the murderer and wouldn’t have in a thousand years, but IT MADE SENSE.

The romance ended up growing on me, and the relationships between the characters are okay. I don’t have much else to say, so the rating: 8/10. Boring and stereotyped characters, but BRILLIANT mystery. Enjoyable, and suspenseful, but seriously– too many cliches.

Teen SRC 2020- The Girl They Left Behind by Roxanne Veletzos

The Girl They Left Behind - Veletzos, Roxanne

The Girl They Left Behind by Roxanne Veletzos is the most moving, heartbreaking and beautiful book I’ve read in a long time. Set in World War II Romania, the book tells the life story of two families joined despite war, boundaries, and suffering, by the daughter they share.

Natalia is four years old when the knock comes on her door. The police is here to arrest her father and take her and her mother away. It is only by sheer luck that the family runs away in the cover of the night. Fearing for their lives, and that of their daughter’s, Natalia’s parents have to make the worst decision of their lives. Leave Natalia behind, and give her the chance at a better life, breaking their own hearts in the process, or risk taking her with them, where death is an almost certain possibility.

Enter Despina and Anton. In every way except one, they are the perfect young couple. She is rich and gorgeous, he is charming and happy. But after four miscarriages, the sadness that hangs on Despina is too much for Anton to accept. At the orphanage, Despina and Anton are shocked to meet Natalia a silent, broken girl, and not the joyous bundle they expected. But something stirs deep inside her heart and Despina knows she needs Natalia’s love just as much as Natalia needs hers.

Despina, Anton, and Natalia’s story is told in gripping scenes and chapters, time passing as Natalia slowly grows up into a young woman. With the war ending, and the Soviets taking control, the family’s fortunes are reversed. They lose everything, and come close to losing each other. Victor, a young man Anton took under his wing years ago, returns later in the story as a powerful Communist leader. He becomes, even as they begin a secret affair, Natalia’s only chance at freedom.

With the devastation of war and the power of love, comes the pain of sacrifice. What will Natalia choose: staying with the only people she’s ever loved, in an ever-shrinking world, or leave behind everything to seek freedom, and answers to a past she thought buried?

Wow, okay, so the description went a little long (sorry! and believe me, there were no spoilers in it). The book itself includes so much more, and every bit of it is raw, and riveting. The passage of time was discreet, and well-written, and the subplots/ change in perspectives were amazing. The only thing I didn’t like in the book was the romance between Victor and Talia, and the fact that sometimes a scene would start in the middle, telling us what happened before instead of showing it. That glossed over some things should’ve been more important.

Anyway, the book shook me to my core. It made me cry, both from sorrow and happiness. Each character is complex, none of them perfect (having well-written characters in historical fiction is a must!!) The Girl They Left Behind matches to the likes of The Book Thief. 10/10, no regrets.

Teen SRC 2020- We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars

Having read Genuine Fraud (also by E. Lockhart) I started We Were Liars happily expecting to have my socks knocked off. And it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Welcome to the Sinclair family. Tall, proud, and rich. Golden-haired, freckled, and most importantly: perfect. There are no Sinclair addicts, drop-outs, or failures. And every summer, the prestigious family meets on their very own island. But one summer, when the Liars (Cadence, her cousins, and a family friend named Gat) are fifteen, something goes horribly wrong. Cadence has an accident and now, at seventeen, she’s still suffering from constant migraines and selective amnesia. She doesn’t remember a thing of what happened. But after having skipped summer sixteen to travel Europe with her dad, Cadence finally returns to Beechwood Island, desperate for answers.

We Were Liars was absolutely brilliant. The idea of a perfect and rich family with their own island is fascinating, and E. Lockhart pulled it off impeccably AND realistically. The flashbacks, Cadence’s pain written in fanciful poetry, and yes, even the romance, was enjoyable to read. It beautifully conveyed the reality that no family is perfect, and there is an overall message in the book about dealing with family problems, money, expectations, pain, loss, and guilt…

And then there’s the plot twist. OH BOY, what can I say about the plot twist? My heart skipped a beat and I had to read the page again and again when I got to it. And the best part: it was entirely believable. (I mean, it took some time but I eventually came to terms with it.) Seriously, the plot twist is amazing.

The book isn’t perfect. (Duh, nothing’s perfect. Not even the Sinclairs!) The switching timelines were confusing: I didn’t know half the time when Cadence was talking about summer fifteen or seventeen. It could have been improved with chapter headings or something like ‘before’ and ‘after’. Cadence is okay as a character– not enough personality in my opinion, and not very likable, either. There were also some overdone metaphors that cut the quality of the writing, and and abrupt ending that needed more and slower falling action.

But please, don’t let my harsh criticism put you off. (that’s just me being me, really.) We Were Liars gripped me from the start and I finished the book in hours. I sacrificed sleep for it, and I don’t regret a thing. It’s the best of the best of contemporary suspense novels and I can’t wait to read it again. 9.5/10.

Teen SRC 2020- The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager - Philippe, Ben

When I first started reading The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, I didn’t expect much from it. I was wrong. So, so, so wrong. It’s an amazing book but before I start telling you exactly why, let me tell you what it’s about.

Norris Kaplan is a Black kid from Montreal and he is moving to Austin, Texas. Being an only child of divorced parents, living with his dad’s new family is not an option. And Judith (immigrant, professor, all-around cool mom), doesn’t have many options when it comes to a job. So Texas it is. Norris knows he will hate it. If you ignore the fact that it is TEXAS we’re talking about (and the tiny little detail of Norris’s skin colour), there’s the heat, the lack of hockey, and perhaps even more glaring than the Texas sun, his lack of friends.

Norris promises his mom that he will try. And trying means reigning in his sarcastic and often caustic tongue, limiting his thoughts to the pages of his counsellor-given notebook. Enter: Maddie, kind (?) cheerleader, Liam, budding hockey enthusiast (rich, too), Aarti, beautiful and witty photographer (Norris is in love). Even Patrick “Hairy Armpits”, school bully, is given a chance in Norris’s new Texan life.

But then things start to go awry (see: Norris’s inability to keep his mouth shut and general tendency to be a jerk) and soon he has as many enemies as friends. Seems like his sweat glands had the right idea… Texas isn’t the right place for him and might never be.

I know what you’re thinking. This is just another new-kid-finds-his-tribe type of book. And it is, (kind of), but not so cliched. (arrogant Black French Canadian protagonist might have given that away.) There are the usual party scenes, and quirky date scenes, of course, but there are also other more poignant plot lines. Norris’s relationship with his parents, for example, the complexity of which I loved. There’s also discussions about depression, racism, and what it means to be yourself. Best of all, there’s no preachiness in the book, or lines stolen from a therapy/parenting book. The characters feel real, and they act like real, flawed teenagers. The wittiness of the dialogue alone is a feat. Norris’s character development is WONDERFUL and gosh, this book really is a feel-good story that will break your heart and make it whole again.

Alas, I am but a judgemental critic and The Field Guide to the North American Teenager gets a mark shy of a 100: 9/10. Why? The chapter headings (you’ll have to read the book to understand) were off-putting and a hassle. There were also some stereotypes in the book I could have done without (see: Indian girl with strict parents, Black absentee dad) but the plot lines did okay with them in the end.

Overall, this is a book I would recommend to everyone, and if you’re looking for your next read, you’ve just found it. (P.S. Isn’t the cover just GORGEOUS?)

Teen SRC 2020 – The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

The Rest of the Story

This story is about a girl named Emma Saylor Payne. She doesn’t remember her mother (Waverly) very well, she died when Emma was 12. But, she does remember the stories that her mother told her, the big lake with nice cold and clear water that went on forever. Now, it’s just Emma and her dad. Her dad remarried and they went on their honeymoon. Sadly, due to the issue of Emma not having a place to stay, her dad had to think, Emma’s grandma had an idea for Emma to stay with her mother’s family. During her 3 weeks at north lake, she slowly familiarizes herself even though the last time she’d been there was when she was 4. Emma knows what north lake looks like from imagining it from when her mom told very detailed stories. But, Waverly didn’t describe the people there. Emma’s journey awaits by introducing herself to these soon to be friends, hopefully…

Teen SRC 2020 – The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

The Downstairs Girl

A historical fiction mystery with a witty protagonist not afraid to speak her mind. You can’t go wrong with a book like this, but adding proper POC representation, unconventional family troubles, and career goals is just icing on the cake.

Introducing: Jo Kuan. She lives with her stand-in father, Old Gin, in the basement of a print shop, in 1890’s Atlanta. Having just been fired from a millinery (apparently customers are uncomfortable with her directness. Or maybe it’s her Chinese features. Probably both.) Jo has no choice but to take up position once again as a maid for Caroline Payne, the downright cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in the city. If memory serves right, Jo is going to have her work cut out for her, especially now that she’s started anonymously penning the column “Miss Sweetie.” She started the column so that the newspaper shop (also secretly serving as her home) can stay in business.

But as each article starts voicing more and more progressive ideas, the elite of Atlanta pick up pitchforks. How could someone so openly write against segregation, encourage women to ride the bicycle, and–gasp!– promote a future for women that ISN’T marriage? Jo knows that if Miss Sweetie is unmasked as a Chinese commoner, it could mean her life. But having had a taste of the freedom words can give, Jo isn’t ready to give up so easily.

I absolutely adored this book. The summary I (tried to) give above is just a fraction of the plot, all of which is completely riveting. Stacey Lee’s writing style is unique, and honestly, at first, I didn’t know what to think about it. The funny expressions grew on me, though, and I ended up loving her style. Don’t let the cover put you off (the potential wasted on portrait covers is a hill I will die on)– this book is worth a read.

Teen SRC 2020- Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman

Dry

Living in a time where dystopian books are common and overdone (the more apocalyptic and doomsday-ish, the better) it’s truly rare to find a book that will leave you with chills running down your spine. Dry, by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman does exactly that.

The idea behind this book is also unusual but not entirely unimaginable; what if the taps were to suddenly go dry? What if there was no more running water, and what if everyone around you suddenly became a thirsty water-zombie that would stop at nothing to get a few drops of the stuff? I know what you’re thinking. No running water, the end of the world, and ZOMBIES? Not another apocalypse book!

And while I don’t consider myself an expert on sci-fi or dystopian novels (not really my genre), I think this book did some things differently that changed it from an overused cliche doomsday book to something special.

First: This novel is narrated by a multiple person perspective. The first few characters stuck throughout the story, but others were just here to offer ‘snapshots’. I found it interesting because we didn’t just see what the Tap-Out meant for Alyssa, Kelton and their friends but for a whole host of different people. Living the apocalypse isn’t really fun when you don’t get the whole experience, am I right?

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Teen SRC 2020 – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

 

Book Thief by Markus Zusak – Off the Shelf

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is about a young girl known as Liesel Meminger who grows up in Germany amidst World War II who lives with her new foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Throughout the story, Liesel steals various pieces of literature, even though she is oblivious to what the words and paragraphs within them mean and how to read them. At first, she doesn’t even know how to comprehend the words and letters within the books, but she knows that the books themselves hold significant values and ideas. Hans notices and teaches her how to make sense of the letters, in which Liesel slowly progresses in her journey to become a more literate person. Eventually, Liesel realizes that Hans and Rosa are secretly in defiance with the Nazi regime by hiding a Jewish boy known as Max in their basement. 

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Teen Book Review – The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner - Hosseini, Khaled

I have returned from the dead to bring forth a review of The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. This book was recommended to me by a friend in passing conversation. I came upon it by chance at my school library, and decided to check it out. I devoured the book in a day, and do not regret the sleep I missed because of it. But, that’s enough about me. Let’s talk about one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

Amir is the son of a wealthy merchant in Kabul, Afghanistan. His mother died giving birth to him, and he has continued to disappoint his father after the fact. His father wants a son that is into sports and one that can stand up for himself. Amir loves literature and is a self-proclaimed coward. Other than his unsteady father-son relationship, and his dead mother, Amir has everything going for him. Him and Hassan ( servant, best friend, and from the ethnic minority in Afghanistan) spend their days kite fighting.

Everything is perfect. Until the day it isn’t.

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TeenTober 2019- Overturned by L.R. Giles

Overturned

Riveting, suspenseful, brilliant. From the moment I opened Overturned by L.R. Giles, I could tell this story wasn’t one I would be forgetting soon. Strong, beautiful writing combined with a captivating plot makes Overturned the gem that it is.

It isn’t easy being the daughter of a convicted killer, but Nikki Tate’s poker face never cracks. By operating illegal poker games in the basement of her family’s casino, Nikki knows she’ll be able to save enough money to get herself out of Vegas and into a good college with her friends. After all, what more could life possibly throw at her?

But then her father (who’s always claimed to be innocent) gets released from jail just before his death sentence. He comes back into the family and Nikki’s world flips upside down once again. With her father’s sudden overturned conviction and the cute new boy at school, is Nikki’s life on the turn for the better? Or will the secrets that almost cost her father his life end up taking hers instead?

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